This Understanding Would Make Your Project Management Career a Lot Easier and Less Stressful

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Recently during one of our classes, a participant (let’s call her Kemi) asked an important question that typifies the challenges most Project Managers face at work – especially in the Nigerian environment. She asked – and I paraphrased it – “How do you handle a situation where your boss directs you to act on what’s expedient and convenient for the current situation with the client, irrespective of the standards, principles and practices of Project Management as a profession?”

The challenge Kemi was encountering in the work environment was a classic problem case most Project Managers have faced (or will face) at some point in their careers; the question of how much authority and autonomy a Project Manager should have on a project he/she manages, and how to work the tightrope of pleasing key stakeholders on a project, delivering “the baby”, yet not offend his/her conscience or ethical standards in achieving these outcomes.

She found this very frustrating, in that, it seemed to demonstrate to her that most times when organisations sent staff for trainings, they just required for them to be learn the theories and principles for certification, and truly didn’t care about adherence to the purity of PM practice. She wanted to discover a way to navigate this tightrope without hurting her project, career prospects, or her ethical standards or conscience.

We made this a case study/discussion in our interactive class, and various suggestions were made by participants on how this challenge can be dealt with. I’ll look forward to hearing from you on how you’ll deal with a similar situation (in the comments section). However, we reached a conclusion, and I’ll share this with us.

Most of us who have read Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (if you haven’t read it yet, you should read it. It’s a classic), would remember where he spoke about the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence.

Dr. Stephen R. Covey; American Educator, bestselling author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

Dr. Stephen R. Covey; American Educator, bestselling author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

According to the management guru, your Circle of Concern comprises things you care about, but can do nothing about because it is simply not in your power to change or affect these concerns. So there’s a war in Iraq – what can you do about it? Nothing! It’s simply not in your power to handle it. Same thing with your salary scale (temporarily), what your boss thinks and believes and how he acts – totally out of your control. The behaviour of your co-workers, their attitude to work, whether they like you or not – totally out of your control. Focusing on your Circle of Concern would only frustrate and stress you out, because it gives you concerns without the requisite power to change or improve the situation.

Your Circle of Concern consists the things in life you cannot affect, influence or change, while your Circle of Influence (or Control) consists those things you are empowered to change, influence or control.

Your Circle of Concern consists the things in life you cannot affect, influence or change, while your Circle of Influence (or Control) consists those things you are empowered to change, influence or control.

However, there’s something you can work on, and that’s your Circle of Influence. Your Circle of Influence comprises all the situations within and around you that you can power over and can change or influence. How you respond to your boss, how you treat your colleagues, how you do your job, how you respond to people and situations in the workplace – that’s totally within your Circle of Influence. You can do something about it. You can influence and change that for your benefit. Notice that now the focus is on what you do? It has shifted from how they behave or what they do (or did) to what you do or choose not to do. That’s Personal Responsibility exemplified.

Covey, going further advised us to focus on our Circle of Influence, and work on changing and influencing the things around us that were within our power, and not bother about the things we cannot change. According to him, focus on our Circle of Concerns would only frustrate and stress us, while a focus on our Circle of Influence would empower, liberate and uplift us. And it goes further than that; as we focus on our Circle of Influence and work on it, as we satisfy its little demands, our Circle of Influence increases outwards and our Circle of Concern shrinks in because we become more enabled, more resourced, more powerful and capable of greater effectiveness.

How can we apply this to Kemi’s situation? It would help Kemi a great deal to realise that there’s nothing she can do about her boss’s attitude to PM standards, and how he chooses to execute his projects – that’s absolutely beyond her control (Circle of Concern), but because she has an understanding of the right way to generate good results, she can choose to respect her boss’s whims and caprices (as long as it doesn’t challenge her conscience and ethical standards, or it’s within the legal boundaries), while doing maintaining the standard and best practices in the little areas where she is allowed and empowered to do so.

There’s no need to whine, complain or gripe; there’s no need to get bitter about the boss, situation or co-workers; all she needs to do is focus on what good she can do within the organisation that she’s allowed and empowered to do.

Faithfulness in little things usually demonstrates to most that we can be faithful in the big things, so as she takes care of her Circle of Influence, her boss and co-workers begin to notice how well she does her job, and the degree of excellence she brings into her assignments and projects. They begin to respect her, listen closely to her input, talk about how reliable and responsible she actually is, and with time, she begins to receive more responsibilities and greater trust from her boss to do what she deems is right on a project. This would naturally flow, because at this point, her boss and her co-workers trust her judgements and decisions.

How your Circle of Influence can grow to exceed and supersede your Circle of Concern

How your Circle of Influence can grow to exceed and supersede your Circle of Concern

At this point, she might even find herself being empowered by the organisation to take key decisions about the situations that used to bother her, because her Circle of Influence has grown large enough to swallow her Circle of Concern, putting her in greater power over the circumstances of her job and career.

This is our take on the matter. However, we would love to hear what you think about this situation. Chime in with your thoughts; we are listening. If you were Kemi, how would you handle this situation?